Taxi in portugal are generally very cheap. This is why people, in particular tourists that come from richer countries, tend to take them a lot. But in Lisbon they are often not that honest. It is very common to take a taxi in Lisbon and end up paying much more than what you were supposed to. And what you are supposed to pay is what it is written on the taximeter (plus sometimes an extra of 1.60 euro if you have luggage), with the taxi having done the shortest or fatest route between the two points. It is not unfortunately uncommon to end up paying twice of three times what should be the real price by law. Interestingly Taxis in Coimbra are instead really really honest, and it only happened a couple of times that the taxi took a route that I thought was much longer. Of course I could notice because I live in Coimbra, and I can notice in Lisbon because I do the same route (from the Airoport to the train station) all the time.
So, speaking about Lisbon, this is how it happens, and this is what you should do to avoid it from happening.
Before event taking a taxi, you should know how much you are supposed to pay for the ride. Of course no one can know it for sure, but they will give you a range. Don’t ask tourists, but portuguese. And ask more than one. Separately. (1)
The first thing you should notice is where the taximeter is. In Taxi in Coimbra the taximeter is placed in the middle, between the two fron seats, under the windscreen. So everybody can see it. In taxi in Lisbon it is placed in front of the front passenger seat. Now in taxi in Portuagl you can only enter from the right side of the taxi. The other doors are locked. This is to prevent people from going down on the side of the street, and risking having an incident. So you enter from the right side of the taxi, and so, if you are alone, you naturally sit on the back of the front passenger seat. This sometimes is suggested by the fact that the front passenger seat is taken totally in front thus giving you a lot of leg room from that position (and much less on the other side), and preventing you even further to see the taximeter. The solution of course is to slide all the way on the other side, so to be able to see the taximeter (2). But as the taximeter in front of the front passenger seat should raise a warning bell to you, and the passenger seat totally in front will raise a second warning bell, the fact that in those conditions you go and seat on the back of the driver seat will raise warning bells to the taxidriver.
Notice that once the ride has started, if you are on the back of the passenger seat, you might try to look at the taximeter by moving toward the front seat. The taxi driver can (and did to me some times) asked me to put on the security belt. So really the solution is to go and seat on the back of the driver seat. If you have a backpack you can enter before the backpack, and then as the backpack enters you slide in to give space to the backpack.
Once the taxi has started you should check the taximeter at least once. Look that it starts at 2 euro, and that there is a “1″ on the left side. If there is a “3″ things are not ok (3). A “1″ means that the taxi is going through his area. A Lisbon taxi in Lisbon will have a 1. A Coimbra taxi in Coimbra will have a 1. But once you go out of the city, or into another city they should put a tarif “3″. This is a much higher tarif, and it is there because taxi drivers are only allowed to work on their area, so if you ask them to go far away from where they normally work they will have to go back all the way before taking up another passenger. SO if you are in Lisbon, and you are being served by a taxi which uses a 3, you are probably being robbed.
Oh, by the way, dont think that if you get friendly with the driver by doing some chit chat talk he will not raise the price. By all means, get friendly, if you want to. Just don’t have any expectations for that to work.
Then of course the problem is the path the driver decides to take. And here you can use an iphone with google maps or any navigator (by the way, at the airoport there is a vodafone shop that sells sim cards. With one of that you should be able to go on internet while in portugal). It is very uncommon for the taxidriver to go on a long journey. They don’t want to throw away time and petrol either. So I would say do not worry so much about this. You know (because you have asked in point 1) how much you are supposed to pay, so just enjoy the ride.
Once you arrive you need to pay attention. They often will turn off the taximeter (at which point it is impossible to recover how much the price was also for them) and will make up a price. If this happens you are in trouble. Because you will need to take a stance. A policeman explained to me that if they turn off the taximeter you do not owe them anything. You could just walk away, and go to the police. But this is of course not easy. Especially since they will probably have your luggage in the back.
So if the price is too high, and they have turned off the taximeter, you can just tell them that the price is too high. They will often lower it (showing that they just made it up). One time I took a cab to an hotel in the city. The cab asked me for 28€. I protested, and he lowered the price to 12€. The hotel later told me that the right price was about 8€. Once they lower the price do not think that now they are going to give you the right price. In my experience if they have not been honest at the beginning they will always try to cheat you again even after conceding some.
Here the solution is to ask for a receipt. Something which, you can say, you of course need for the job. The receipt should contain from where the drive was, to where the drive was, the total cost, and the number of the taxidriver. If you have such a piece of paper, with the wrong price they are going to be in real trouble. Because you can just bring it to the police, and they would lose their licence. So they will resist giving you the paper will all the informations. Usually the paper will just contain the price, and nothing else. If you insist that they write also the trip (from, to), they will then avoid writing their number on the paper. They will often write another number that they might make up on the spot. The number that they should write is written on the windsceen inside the taxi. So once they give you the paper, you should check if the numbers are the same. If the price is not right they will never give you a paper will the 4 data all correct. You can then protest. And then something happens. They will lower the price further to the right price, usually get really really angry, and throw at you the piece of paper.
Pay attention at this point because if they are angry for not being able to trick you into paying more like all the other tourists (that’s the problem with expectations), they might get violent. So far no one tried to hit me, but they might slam the luggage on the floor. Especially in a way to break the wheels.
Here are some stories:
One time I took a cab from the airport to Oriente (the right cost being 5-6 euro). The driver had the taximeter in front of the front passenger seat, the passenger seat all the way in front. I sat on the back of the passenger seat. Once we started I tried to look in front, and the driver asked me to put on the security belt. He then took a very unfamiliar route, so I asked him where were we going. He told me that there were many ways to go to Oriente. He then asked me if I was poor, and if I needed money. This was weird. He took off the wallet, showed me some pieces of 50 €, and told me he was very rich, and if I wanted he could lend me some money. I told him I did not need his money. We arrived at Oriente. Not at the usual place, but on the other side, he stopped, far away from anybody, and asked me 12€ (double the price). I refused to pay, and asked him a receipt. So he said that I must have been very poor, so he offered me the ride for 5€. I gave him 7 saying that that was about the right price. And left.
Another time I arrived at the airport, took a cab, and asked to go to Oriente. Once we arrived the taxidriver turned off the taximeter and asked me 15 euro. I protested, and he lowered the price to 9. I knew it was still not right, so I asked him for a receipt. He wrote a receipt, but wrote the wrong taxi number. I checked the taxi number, and told him that this was not the right number. Then he lowered the price to 6 euro, got very angry shouting against miserable italian people (I told him that I was italian), and gave me the correct receipt. Yes, it was only 3 euro of difference, but I made the point. And I was quite amused at how the taxidriver got angry just because I did not permit him to cheat me on the price.
Another time I arrived at the airoport. I saw two policeman at the front of the airpoport door.
I asked them (in English, which they spoke very well):
-Hello, I would like to to take a cab to Oriente.
-Yes, sir, they are over there.
-Thanks, but the problem is that each time I take a cab to Oriente they give me a very different price, do you know how much should I pay?
-They should not give you a different price each time. The price is defined by the law, and it is what the taximeter says.
-But do you know how much should this be?
-Hmm, probably around 5 euro.
-That sounds very low.
-Maybe 6, 6.5 with the luggage, but not more.
-Yes, that soulds about right, but they usually ask me something between 10 and 15.
-They cannot ask you something that is not said by the taximeter.
-Oh, they turn off the taximeter as soon as we arrive, so they just can make up the price.
-If they turn off the taximeter you do not have to pay anything (sic)
-Yes, if they turn off the taximeter you do not pay anything, and you call the police.
-Thanks, this was very instructing. You are policeman… (I read his badge). So if they protest I can say that policeman … told me that I do not have to pay anything since they turned off the taximeter.
-yes sir (smiling)
-Another question, an I in the law if I record the whole trip.
-You can, but if they ask you to stop recording you need to do it.
Then I left, and went to the taxi queue. There were many taxi, and no one. Before getting near I turned on the video recorder from the phone. I pretended I was a stupid turist which was reconding everything. I can make a silly face like no one else. A policeman was bringing people to the taxis. I asked the policeman:
-Hello, Oriente? How much it would be?
-I don’t know, 9, 10, not more than 10.
-The police over there told me 5.50, 6. Not more than 5.50, 6.
-I don’t know. It might be too little.
-But he says there is a taximeter, if there is no taximeter I dont need to pay, is that correct?
Then he shows me a taxi. Interestingly it is not the first one of the line, but one on the side. I am not sure if it is the one that usually would go. While I sit inside the policeman goes and says a few words to the taxidriver. They speak portuguese and at low voice. I keep the video on. I enter and I slide all the way behind the driver seat. Telephone video recording very visible in my hand. The driver gets in, and brings me to Oriente. The taximeter is on 1, the driver turns it on at the beginning then does not touch it at all for the whole trip. We arrive, rapidly. I ask how much it is (still the telephone recording in my hand. All the time I was pointing it out of the window. The taximeter signs 3.70. Adding 1.60 for the luggage we go to 5.30. The cheapest trip on record. I pay 6, turn off the camera. The driver walks out, opens the back of the cab, takes mu luggage, and slams it on the floor wheels first (If you are a frequent traveller you should know that the weak point of a luggage is the axle of the wheel. If that breaks the luggage is much more harder to carry). Luckily the luggage was a Samsonite, so it survived. But this was another final lesson. If you pay the right price instead of the price they would want you to pay, take the luggae yourself, and do not turn off the video recorder before you are far away.
So to summarise:
-1: know how much you are supposed to pay
-2: slide in all the way so that you seat on the back of the driver seat
-3: check that the taximeter is using tarif 1 if you are inside the city
-4: maybe check on google maps that you are not going all around the city. (or just relax and enjoy the ride)
-5: make sure that the driver does not turn off the taximeter once you arrive, before you have the time to see.
-6: if he does turn off the taximeter you are allowed not to pay anything. Insist to pay at least the right price.
-7: if the price is not right ask for a receipt, which should contain where was thr trip started, where were you going, the price, and the number of the taxidriver licence.
8: double check that the 4 informations are correct. If the price is too high, they will not be. Insist to have them correct. The price will magically go back down.